IT TAKES REX BOHN A LONG TIME to get to
his seat in a restaurant.
Even before he's inside the building, he
is busy socializing. "Hi, girls!" he says to a pair
of grey-haired women headed to their car in the parking lot.
"How's it goin' today?" Two Humboldt County sheriff's
deputies saunter out the door. "Who's out suppressing crime
and violence if you're here?" he assails them, laughing.
Once inside the front door, he catches the eye of a waitress
who went to grade school with his son. "Hey, honey,"
Bohn says, smiling broadly. "How ya doin'?"
And on it goes: the retired men sitting
at the counter, the other waitresses, and nearly everyone who
walks by Bohn's table gets a wave, a "how-ya-doin,"
or a pat on the shoulder -- and always a smile. The affection
is returned. "We're rootin' for you," one elderly woman
says with a thumbs-up. "We'll get it done," Bohn replies.
Bohn, a Renner Petroleum truck driver who
worked his way up to operations manager, is getting a lot of
attention these days for his bid to unseat incumbent Chris Kerrigan
(see accompanying story) in the Eureka City Council race for
the 4th Ward. The 50-year-old Republican emphasizes his experience
over that of his young rival and says he can get things done
for Eureka. How? Because he knows how to talk to people.
Indeed, Bohn's mastery of the lunch crowd
at Adel's restaurant on a recent weekday reveals him as a consummate
politician, though Bohn himself would cringe at the term.
"I've got a career when I retire,
and that's gonna be maintaining the ball fields," he says,
referring to the six soccer and three baseball fields that make
up the 11-acre Redwood Fields in Cutten, which were created in
large part through his volunteer efforts. "I have no aspirations"
for higher office.
Bohn grew up in Myrtletown, not far from
the Park Grocery on Harris Street, which his parents, Herb and
Jane Bohn, owned. When Rex Bohn was 19, his father died, but
not before impressing on his son the importance of public service.
"He always told me when I was younger, if you want to make
a difference, get involved in the community," Bohn says.
"I've probably taken that to an extreme."
Bohn started his volunteer work when he
was in high school at St. Bernard's, helping out in a classroom
at Glen Paul School. In his early 20s, Bohn worked on the Special
Olympics, motivated in part by a developmentally disabled relative.
When his son, Trevor, or T-Bohn, as he is known, attended Ridgewood
School in Cutten, Bohn won three PTA awards for service, he says.
He's also spent years coaching kids' soccer and baseball.
Bohn got perhaps his greatest lesson in
how things get done in Eureka through his work as the primary
organizer behind Redwood Fields. "We were really short on
playing space in the community for soccer, baseball. They would
[sometimes] cancel a game because they didn't have a field."
One of the boys on his soccer team at the
time happened to be the son of Bob Simpson, then general manager
of Louisiana-Pacific Corp. Bohn says Simpson recognized the problem.
"He said, `If I give you some land, could you build a field?"
Bohn remembers. The lumber company deeded the land at the end
of Fern Street to an organizing committee, which rounded up donations
and volunteers from all over town. "That was probably the
best example of the community coming together and organizing
something that would last forever," Bohn says.
His visibility in the community also got
Bohn a governor's appointment 10 years ago to the Redwood Acres
Fair Board, on which he serves as president.
In his professional life, Bohn personifies
traditional, blue-collar Humboldt County. After a five-year stint
as owner of the Fourth Street Connection, a bar and restaurant
near F Street at the edge of Old Town, drove truck for Renner,
delivering diesel and home heating oil to local customers. After
20 years with the company, he's worked his way up the ranks;
he now supervises 10 or 12 drivers, dispatches trucks, tracks
inventory and gets behind the wheel himself when they're short-staffed.
Bohn says he sees his council campaign
as just another example of his efforts to make a contribution.
"People had asked me and said, `Why don't you [run]? You
have a wonderful gift of talking to people,'" he says. "I
want to serve the city."
Though he is light on specific policy proposals,
Bohn focuses on a few main issues, including jobs and affordable
housing. "Our kids are leaving in droves," he says.
"I would like to promote this area. We still have a lot
more affordable housing than many places in the state,"
and we have a sea port that has a lot of possibilities, "but
we gotta be able to look at them," he says. Harbor-related
business is Eureka's "best chance" at new, good-paying
jobs, he says. Bohn was a prominent backer this spring of doing
a study regarding Calpine Corp.'s proposal to build a liquefied
natural gas terminal on Humboldt Bay. (The company pulled out
in the face of public opposition.)
In order to encourage the building of more
homes, Bohn says he would make it easier for builders to get
permits and start construction -- and his list of campaign donors
reads like a who's-who of Humboldt County builders and developers
(see box). He'd also streamline the permitting process for businesses
that want to move here or expand here, he says.
In contrast, Kerrigan has earned a reputation
as a "no growth" advocate through his proposal last
year to create a retail ordinance and his alliance with like-minded
officials, according to Thomas Hannah, a former Eureka City Council
member and Bohn supporter.
Also high on Bohn's list is crime, and
he says he does not believe in cutting budgets for police and
fire -- a position that may have helped him win the endorsement
of the Eureka Police Officers Association. Kerrigan, on the other
hand, said during a televised debate last week that he had had
to "make some tough decisions" regarding police budgets,
holding off on salary increases to keep more police on the streets.
Though Bohn insists that he wants to "take
the high road" on his campaign, some of his supporters are
not shy about trashing his opponent.
"The extreme environmental movement
is trying to take over every aspect of Humboldt County government,"
and Kerrigan has let them "align themselves with his campaign,"
said Eureka businessman and Bohn supporter Tom Cookman in a radio
commentary last month.
Cookman pointed out that Richard Salzman,
who led District Attorney Paul Gallegos' successful fight against
a recall attempt, works on Kerrigan's campaign. Salzman raised
the ire of Bohn supporters by sending out an e-mail to the Friends
of Kerrigan list speculating on what part Bohn plays, as a Renner
employee, in the region's high gas prices. On the contrary, Cookman
said, "Rex is not in the pockets of big business."
Another issue that has been discussed widely
among Kerrigan opponents is the now-infamous pot pipe incident.
The Times-Standard reported in July that a marijuana pipe
was found at Kerrigan's home while he was housesitting at another
residence. No charges were filed, and Kerrigan denied at the
time that the pipe was his. At the televised debate, Kerrigan
was asked how the pipe got there, and whether he supported the
idea of recreational drug use. He answered neither question directly.
"The people of Eureka want honesty,"
Bohn told the Journal. "They want integrity in their
elected officials, want them to take the moral high ground,"
Bohn says. "I don't think there's anything recreational
about an illegal substance."
The main difference between him and Kerrigan,
Bohn says, is experience. He pauses for a moment to talk to a
young man he knows who used to coach soccer. Bohn tells him he
should get back into it and gives the man his number. Then he
returns to the question. That, right there, he said, is also
what he offers: his familiarity with the people of Eureka.
"My knowing the people in the community
and what they do. I'm not a politician. I'm just Rex."
O&M Industries $250
Philip Arnot $240
Thomas Hannah $100
Mercer-Fraser Co. $1,700
L&M Renner, Inc. (petroleum) $100
Steve Strombeck (developer) $1,705
Britt Lumber Co. $200
Mary Schmidbauer (lumber) $1,250
Harvey M. Harper (auto dealer) $1,350
Dale Maples (plumbing) $500
Pierson Company (construction) $1,500
Clayton Construction $100
Michael Renner (petroleum) $500
Cherie Arkley $250
Stanwood Murphy (forest products) $250
Charles Barnum (timber) $250
Mad River Lumber $1,250
Larry O. Doss (realty) $400
J. Michael Brown (judge) $200
John Dalby (bank president) $200
Eureka Ready Mix $500
keen on government
IN AN UNSEASONABLY MUGGY AFTERNOON last
month, Chris Kerrigan gathered up his campaign materials and
prepared to walk up and down the length of B Street, knocking
on doors to seek support for re-election to the Eureka City Council.
"If I could give advice to anyone
running for political office, it would be to walk the neighborhoods,"
he said. "That's how you learn first-hand about your constituents'
Door-knocking is something of a religion
to Kerrigan. Many credit his zeal for walking the neighborhoods
with putting him on the council in 2000. As a 20-year-old college
student and graduate of St. Bernard's High, he upset incumbent
Connie Miller that year with just over 60 percent of the vote.
He said that since being elected, he has hit the streets not
for politics, but for purposes of government -- when a big issue
like Calpine's proposal to build a liquefied natural gas facility
on the Samoa peninsula comes to town, he'll knock doors to solicit
the opinions of people who don't normally come to City Council
For this election, he's made it a goal
to hit every house in town before Eureka goes to the ballot on
Nov. 2. If that represents a scaling-up of his campaigning, it
would only be in keeping with the significance attached to the
race. Kerrigan's defense of his seat against challenger Rex Bohn
is probably the most closely watched local race this season.
On both sides, it has absorbed most of the pent-up passion left
over from last spring's DA recall campaign.
In many ways, and despite his four years
in office, Kerrigan still comes across as a fresh-faced kid.
When listening to him talk about issues the city faces, it's
easy to slip into the error of thinking of him in terms of his
potential, rather than his accomplishments. But unlike in 2000,
Kerrigan now has a record to run on -- and, to hear him tell
it, a philosophy of government. It's that, as much as anything,
that he feels sets him apart from his opponent.
"I feel that I have more experience,
and a track record, but I also think my approach is more innovative
and more likely to be successful," he said.
If there has been any prominent issue in
the race -- which has often seemed more a personality contest
or a skirmish in the local culture wars -- it has been development.
Most of the county's largest developers have lined up behind
Bohn -- probably, Kerrigan said, because he hasn't always given
them everything they want.
"I've supported development and developers,
but there's times when you have to stand up to developers when
it's in the community's best interest," he said during a
recent League of Women Voters debate.
During his tenure, Kerrigan has worked
for measures that would give the city greater control over building
within the city limits. He has championed city design review
standards and historic preservation districts as tools for preserving
the character of Eureka's downtown and its neighborhoods. He
unsuccessfully tried to get the city to pass a "big box"
ordinance that would require chain outlets to get a use permit
before being allowed to build new mega-stores.
However, significant sectors of the building
community have announced their support for Kerrigan. William
Pierson, owner of Pierson's Building Center, has supported his
campaign to the tune of $6,245. Both the Building and Construction
Trades Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and the local
Central Labor Council -- which represents many other unions associated
with construction -- have also endorsed Kerrigan.
Jim Smith, president of the Central Labor
Council, said last week Kerrigan's accessibility and his willingness
to seek out the opinions of his constituents was a major factor
in his group's endorsement.
"He's a quick study," Smith said.
"If he has a question about something, he never hesitates
to call and ask about it. Frankly, I wish more of our elected
officials would do that before forming an opinion on issues."
Dave Wiseman, president of the Building
and Construction Trades Council, agreed with Smith, and said
that the Bohn campaign's portrayal of Kerrigan as an anti-growth
candidate misses the mark.
"A lot of these young guys get on
your nerves in various ways, but Chris isn't one of them,"
he said. "Chris is a younger fellow with some high ideals,
and is very concerned about the citizenry having plenty of quality-wage
jobs. He's not against growth."
Kerrigan has said that one of the largest
obstacles to economic development in the county is its poor transportation
infrastructure -- something he has worked to improve during his
tenure. As chairman of the Redwood Region Economic Development
Commission, he helped secure matching funds for a Federal Aviation
Administration grant that will bring direct service from the
Eureka-Arcata Airport to Los Angeles next year. He traveled to
Washington, D.C., to lobby for improvements to Buckhorn Summit,
a perilous seven-mile stretch of Highway 299 that prevents industry-standard
trucks from entering the county.
Face to face
Kerrigan said that because he is still
young and has no family responsibilities, he is able to devote
much of his time to government. He supplements the $500 a month
he is paid as a council member with occasional political consulting,
painting houses with his father and the financial aid he receives
as an HSU student.
Following Kerrigan as he walks the neighborhood,
stumping for votes, one thing quickly becomes clear: He is far
from a natural politician. The glad-handing side of the business
seems to stymie him. Paradoxically, for a devotee of door-to-door
campaigning, he clearly feels uncomfortable in asking for someone's
vote -- he approaches the issue with shyness, his smile looking
a bit pasted-on.
On the day he campaigned on B Street, his
discomfort was accentuated by the foul weather. The high humidity
caused sweat to bead up on his face after the first few blocks.
Nevertheless, Kerrigan soldiered through, giving everyone a version
of his pitch -- young people who light up when Kerrigan introduces
himself, polite skeptics, proud nonvoters, out-and-out fans --
and asked for their support in an aw-shucks tone of voice.
There were times, though, when Kerrigan's
nice, hesitant kid persona evaporated. Kerrigan asked everyone
who answered their door whether they had any questions for him.
When they did, Kerrigan could switch to talking about government.
The change was remarkable -- suddenly, it was as if a cool dry
breeze had drifted in off the bay, evaporating the shy 24-year-old
and leaving a seasoned policy-maker in his place.
One place this happened was at the home
of Frank and Carol Maurer. Frank Maurer was standoffish at first
-- he was upset at the state of the neighborhood, just on the
border of the poorer west side of the city.
"It's all the dumping of all these
places in this district," said Maurer. "This district
has 99 percent of all those halfway houses and drunk houses and
drug houses. They put them all here. They don't put them where
they live, they put them here."
"Well, part of the problem is the
zoning," Kerrigan said. "You know, this is the one
area in the city where there's no regulations, really, on how
big you can put in apartments. And I've really worked to have
some more consistent zoning, zoning that fits the neighborhood.
And also, you know, every one of these houses is susceptible
to putting in a big apartment complex. So I've worked really
hard to make sure that we have design review standards, so they
have to go in so that they fit into the community and have quality
construction, so they don't detract from the neighborhoods."
"But it isn't so much the apartments
as it is all the subsidized housing, and all the halfway houses
and the juvenile houses and all this kind of stuff," Maurer
said. "If this area is zoned differently from the rest of
the city, let's zone this the same as the rest of the city. Or
zone the whole city like this area!
"If my house was on the other side
of Wabash, it'd be worth an additional $50,000."
"Well, I have been working for improvements
to this neighborhood, like the addition of street trees, of things
that raise property values," Kerrigan said. "So I've
been a really strong advocate for these neighborhoods."
Kerrigan and Maurer agreed that his particular
issue -- rehab homes in the neighborhood -- was more the fault
of the state government than the city. Maurer held his counsel
-- he was still upset about blight in his neighborhood, but he
was clearly listening closely to the things Kerrigan had to say.
As their conversation wrapped up, his wife Carol chimed in. "Well,
good luck!" she said. "We supported you last time,
That moment, and a few others like them,
served to illustrate the point of Kerrigan's neighborhood-walking
campaign. He may have saved two votes for himself -- not by smiling
for the camera, kissing babies or making extravagant promises,
but by persuasively explaining his stances on issues face-to-face
with a constituent. In a small city like Eureka, that's still
possible -- if a candidate is willing to put in the work.
For Chris Kerrigan:
Arlene Banducci (grandmother) $2,484
Patty Berg $390
Elizabeth Harwood $1,000
Michael and Tina Kerrigan $3,895
Richard Cogswell $2,000
Joseph and Dolores Vellutini $300
Ken Miller (Humboldt Watershed Council)
Bonnie Neely (Board of Supervisors) $365
Central Labor Council of Humboldt and Del
Norte Counties $300
Building and Construction Council of Humboldt
and Del Norte Counties $100
Sedgefield Properties (W. Pierson) $4,000
William and Elizabeth Pierson $2,245
Operating Engineers Local 3 $140
Chesbro for Senate $500
Dave Meserve (Arcata City Council) $100